Saturday 24 June 2017

'I might as well take your picture' - The poignant photograph of Paddy Lyons (90) now at centre of murder investigation

The photo of Paddy Lyons taken by his friend Paddy Geoghegan
The photo of Paddy Lyons taken by his friend Paddy Geoghegan
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Paddy Lyons often used to sit on the bench in the graveyard in Ballysaggart. Not so much because it was a sun trap, but that he knew people would be passing and there would be the chance of a chat.

He was sitting there on a dull, grey day last summer when photographer Paddy Geoghegan came along, his camera strung around him.

Having known Mr Lyons for all of his 70 years, he stopped to talk and Mr Lyons admired his camera. "Sure I might as well take your picture when I'm here," said Mr Geoghegan.

The 90-year-old man straightened himself up and "smiled the lovely smile you see there in the photograph," he said.

Paddy was a quiet, unassuming man who lived alone on a 30-acre holding down a long boreen in the foothills of the Knockmealdown mountains in Co Waterford.

His parents died some 40 years ago, while his lifelong friend Jimmy Roche died some years ago in an accident - and that had been a huge loss to him. After that, Paddy was reliant on his neighbours and other visitors to look in on him.

"But the people of Ballysaggart, man, woman and child, knew Paddy and he was part of the community," said Mr Geoghegan. "He was a lovely, lovely man, very outgoing, very sociable. He didn't take age into account at all."

If there was music playing in a pub, "nine times out of 10, Paddy would be there," he said - and his musical tastes encompassed a wide range.

"If it was Black Sabbath, he'd nearly be at it," Mr Geoghegan laughed.

He would sit quietly in the Red House bar in Lismore - its peaceful green interior hardly altered since the 1930s apart from the addition of a television set and a bar food menu - and would happily talk politics to anyone who came along.

And every month when Ballysaggart held a dance in the local community centre, sprightly Paddy would be there.

The local community is a strong one and they helped Paddy with lifts into Lismore, a 10-minute drive away, to collect his pension.

He was robbed on several occasions, by con men who pretended to be gardaí and by thugs who broke into his house while he was out.

After the last robbery in 2011, neighbours encouraged him to set up a bank account, hoping it would make him less of a target.

Even then, the intruders came and the local Community Watch group tried to persuade Mr Lyons to install an alarm system but he baulked at the idea.

Paddy did not want to feel like a prisoner in his own home.

Last Saturday, he failed to turn up for the funeral of local woman Maureen Walsh (88) and members of the community were immediately concerned. Paddy would not have missed it voluntarily.

A couple who used to visit him called that day at about 4.30pm and were shocked to discover him badly beaten and slumped in an armchair and called to a neighbour to ask her to raise the alarm.

The results of the post-mortem caused gardaí to launch a murder hunt on Sunday.

Gardaí believe he may have been beaten with an iron bar or a poker.

On Wednesday, Ross Outram (26) appeared before Dungarvan District Court charged with the murder of Mr Lyons at a time unknown between February 24 and 25 last.

He will appear again before Dungarvan District Court on March 8 next.

It is understood that the funeral arrangements for Paddy Lyons are being delayed to allow distant relatives to travel to Ireland from overseas.

No arrangements have been confirmed to date though it is now expected the Requiem Mass will take place early next week.

Ballysaggart locals are planning "a simple but dignified funeral" for Mr Lyons with tributes to be mounted by Ballysaggart GAA, Ballysaggart Community Alert and other groups.

Meanwhile, for elderly people living in rural areas around the country, fear levels have risen.

Margaret Quinn, South Eastern Region Community Alert Development Officer with Muintir na Tíre, said elderly people in the region have been left deeply frightened by the attack on Mr Lyons.

"The fear that it generates is as bad as anything else," she said.

But she stressed that such attacks are not the norm.

"Most older people will live happily and safely in their own homes with the help of the community around them," she said.

But Ms Quinn pointed out that even with a supportive community around him, Mr Lyons appears to have fallen victim to intimidation without anyone realising.

She warned that it is very difficult to get a vulnerable person to reveal what is going on.

"If an elderly person is robbed, they often don't want to admit to gardaí how much money is gone because they don't want to appear foolish by having had that amount of money in the house," she said.

"But some older people aren't used to going to a hole in the wall to get their money out, they're used to keeping money at home and they feel that's a private matter."

"They might also be afraid that if they have a bit of money that they might lose any benefits they might get if they put that money in the bank," she added.

Meanwhile, the closure of rural garda stations and post offices has stripped away a sense of reassurance and even independence for older rural people.

The threat of losing vital bus routes also hangs heavily over older rural people who may rely on the bus as their only means of transport, she pointed out. "Even if they only have a bus going two days a week, that's two days they can tell themselves that they can get up, wash, put on their best clothes whatever they may be, and go in and just meet other human beings," she said.

Graham Lowndes, who shot a convicted thief in the arm after he caught him raiding his father Richard's home in Swords, Co Dublin, said that his father's life was badly affected right up until his death just a few weeks ago. "It's terrible that old people can spend their whole lives working and at the end of it all, something like this happens to them," he said.

Irish Independent

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